Save your nickels for The Nickel

The 12th Annual Nickel Independent Film Festival begins Tuesday evening at The LSPU Hall.

Even the seasons can’t keep up with the perpetual burgeoning of creativity in the island’s capital city.

When summer solstice ushers in (what should be) the warmest time of year just before 9 p.m. Wednesday evening, The LSPU Hall will be filled with people celebrating independent cinema and the filmmakers at its helm.

The 12th Annual Nickel Independent Film Festival, which runs June 19-23 and features shorts from local filmmakers and a selection of works from Canada and abroad, doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood opening or a big city film festival. But its role and value here can’t be described or measured in red carpets or dollars.

“Every year we get a ton of great local stuff and this year’s no exception,” Festival Director Janelle Hickey said Monday afternoon, on the eve of the festival’s opening night. “We’ve got something local every night, so that’s fantastic.”

A Wonderbolt Circus performance outside The Hall will mark the launch of Nickel 2012 on Tuesday evening, and over the course of the festival’s five days filmmakers and enthusiasts will have screenings, readings, performances and workshops at their fingertips.

Hickey said the festival’s attendance rates are gradually growing but that it’s still a good fit for St. John’s popular small theatre.

“We sold out almost every show last year,” she explained. “Opening and closing nights always sell out, the late night horror show sells out, and then last year we saw a couple of the other shows sell out.”

This year at The Nickel

The 8 p.m. nightly screenings and the Thursday evening ‘Late Night Horror Show’ at 10:30 p.m. are consistent with previous years, but the festival’s newest edition, Friday’s ‘Rated R Night’, is this year’s experiment. Open to audience members 18 and older, the show will act as a double-bill premiere for Nik Sexton’s short ‘Donnie Dumphy: How to be Deadly’ and Pat Condon’s ‘Fuck or Fight’.

“We’re excited to see how that turns out and what kind of crowd we get out for that,” said Hickey.

The week’s also chock full of daytime workshops for emerging and experienced filmmakers, including the two-day ‘Directing Masterclass’—hosted this year by veteran television director Stacey Curtis—the ‘Super 8 mm Series’, and ‘3 Acts in 3 Minutes’.

As one of two primary annual opportunities for audiences to see local films in a theatre setting (the other being the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, held in the fall), the Nickel plays an important role in fostering homegrown talent — but it doesn’t work alone.

The benefits of a film co-op

Almost all of the local submissions and selections have the Newfoundland Independent Film Co-operative’s (NIFCO) mark on them one way or another.

NIFCO offers a series of successive programs and workshops for amateur filmmakers, including the ‘First Time Filmmakers’ course, which has functioned as a movie-making 101 for a large number of the island’s emerging directors, producers and cinematographers.

Among the other local films screening at The Nickel this year are James Grace and David Martingale’s animated short ‘Pop Flips Out’, Darcy Fitzpatrick’s ‘Meters’, David Kalinauskas’ ‘Last Music Man’, Tymur Markunin’s ‘Friends’, Jordan Canning’s award-winning ‘Oliver Bump’s Birthday’, Pat Condon’s ‘Audition’, Peter Buckle’s Sherman Downey music video for ‘Keep Your Head Up’, Allison White’s ‘Decoloured’ and Mark O’Brien’s ‘Kathy’.

Newfoundland author-turned-filmmaker Kenneth Harvey also has a couple shorts in the festival, including ‘It’s a Girl’, which was created through NIFCO’s ‘Super 8’ program with mentor Roger Maunder. It plays at Wednesday night’s screening.

Fitzpatrick, a director for local TV production company Best Boy Entertainment, is also going through the NIFCO ranks. His short film ‘Meters’, which screened at the Women’s Film Fest last fall and won the ‘Best Dramatic Short Film’ award at a film festival in Waterloo, Ontario, will play Tuesday night at The Nickel.

Sean Panting and Mike Hayes star in Darcy Fitzpatrick's short film 'Meters', which plays Tuesday night at The Nickel.

The film, which depicts a lonely elderly man searching for meaning late in his life, is the result of Fitzpatrick’s involvement in ‘Picture Start’, NIFCO’s development program for emerging directors, producers and writers.

The program, funding, mentorship and selections by local film festivals has allowed the St. John’s native to explore and share with viewers a “meditation on your last days of life and whether or not you can do anything to influence what that means,” he said.

“I meditate a lot on the idea of death, what that means, and how we deal with that in our lives…so it was great to be able to put that into a motion picture and express that. And also, for me, it’s a learning process,” he continued.

“I’m serious about my career as a filmmaker, so to be able to actually get to write and direct a fully-funded, fully-crewed short film is just — it’s an unusual thing to get to be able to do without some serious connections. In a small town we’re really lucky to have this kind of program.”

Elsa Morena, Ken Harvey and Jody Richardson are part of last year’s NIFCO ‘Super 8’ cohort. Their resulting shorts will play at Tuesday night’s screening. Morena sits on The Nickel’s board of directors and has worked with the Women’s Film Festival in the past.

Like Fitzpatrick, she now works for Best Boy and, though she has diplomas from Memorial University and the Vancouver Film School, has immersed herself in St. John’s hands-on filmmaking community and is doing the NIFCO programs.

St. John’s filmmaking ‘ecosystem’

“It’s a small community here but everyone helps each other out,” she said Sunday on the phone from Los Angeles where she’s attending a producers’ conference. “Personally, I found it way easier to get something done here than it would be…in Vancouver. Everyone here wants to help each other out because chances are someone else (is going to help you out on your) film. It’s really encouraging.”

Morena recently co-produced a film with Pat Condon through the ‘Picture Start’ program, which she says the pair will submit to The Nickel next year.

The Nickel and NIFCO are “a fantastic resource for the community,” she said. “It’s just a great way to network, and I encourage anyone who’s thinking about becoming a filmmaker (to) go out and see what’s playing (at the festival).

“And take advantage of the programs that are going on around the city, like the ‘First Time Filmmakers’ program at NIFCO.”

Fitzpatrick says the whole network of resources and support in St. John’s “is like a full ecosystem for a filmmaker.

“You have the access to the equipment and the people to make a film, and then there’s the festival. It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to get in but they generally do try and get as many first time films as possible in there. So the Nickel is a great support system for the independent filmmakers’ community.”

The 12th Annual Nickel Independent Film Festival kicks off tonight at The LSPU Hall. Tickets for all screenings are $10 and available online here or, if any remain, at the LSPU Hall box office. For a full festival schedule, which includes special events, musical performances and Saturday’s awards ceremony, click here.

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